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California school district apologizes for Holocaust assignment

An essay prompt asking eighth graders to argue whether or not the Holocaust occurred has gained national attention, prompting the school district to apologize.
A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.
A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.

A California school district is apologizing after an essay assignment asking students to prove the Holocaust occurred was distributed to students.

The Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles, California gave its eighth grade students the essay assignment this spring that ignited a wave of controversy after it received national attention this week.

The 18-page assignment began with the prompt:

"When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth."

The assignment was developed in December, according to the district, and added to curriculum meant to satisfy Common Core standards for critical thinking.

School board officials initially defended the assignment, but the board has since reversed their position and apologized.

"From the bottom of my heart, I feel sorry for this whole thing happening," interim Supt. Mohammad Z. Islam said at Wednesday night's emergency school board meeting, and school board President Joanne Gilbert said there was a lack of internal checks and balances that caused the assignment to be distributed to students.

On Thursday night's Hardball, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who spoke at the emergency school board meeting, said there were multiple teachers who collaborated on the assignment and that it was reviewed before it was handed out to students.

“Maybe it was supposed to be designed for critical thinking,” Cooper said, “but what it did was elevate hate with historic fact.”

Cooper added that students and members of the school board would be encouraged to visit the Museum of Tolerance, where Holocaust survivors would be present to help give a human face to history.